In branding, when is “new” not new anymore?

This morning, information pills I was talking to a client and mentioned my “newborn son“. But almost before the words left my mouth, I realized they weren’t quite true any more. At some point over the last 8 weeks, he crossed an invisible line from a “newborn” to just being a “baby”. My 3-year old isn’t a “toddler” any more. My 5 year old gets very angry if you call her anything but a “big girl”. But how do you know when a child – or a product – has crossed such a line? The short answer: it’s really hard…

"New" Raquel ad for Coke - not looking so new anymore (from
"New" Raquel ad for Coke - not looking so new anymore (from

Meet the new boss. Same as the other new boss.

Back in 2006, the media and political junkies in Canada were surprised to find that our newly elected Conservative minority government was calling itself “Canada’s New Government”. From a positioning standpoint, this was actually a brilliant way of distancing themselves from the scandal-tainted previous government. But even then, it rang a bit hollow, since the “newness” was just a group of new (and very inexperienced) bosses. Over the intervening years, as the government became more and more entrenched, the term gradually faded from view.

New Coke is of course another Classic example. But when I asked a class full of university business students on Monday whether they’d ever heard of New Coke, only one hand went up. It may have had a huge impact 25 years ago, but it ain’t “news” anymore.

You might object that “New York” “New Zealand”, and “Nova Scotia” have all kept their “New” labels. Yes. But how many people still associate these places with their precursors? Go ahead, ask any New Yorker how their city is like the York in Toronto… er… England. See? Even there, the “newness” is lost in the mists of history.

And that’s the problem with “new”

Or rather, that’s the problem with any time-sensitive descriptor that you attach to something. It only has so much shelf time before it will have to change.

So be careful in choosing to be “new” “modern” “updated” or “improved”. And if you’re a brander who is already stuck with such a moniker, probably time to look for alternatives.

May I suggest “classic”?

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